Predators finally have right formula to beat Blackhawks

Chicago hasn't been swept since 1993

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Kevin Fiala #56 of the Nashville Predators is swarmed by teammates after scoring the game winning overtime goal against goalie Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks April 17, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The Nashville Predators will try to do something Thursday night no team has accomplished since 1993: Sweep the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Yes, we have to go way back to an entirely different era to find a Blackhawks team that was bounced from the playoffs without a win. The St. Louis Blues topped them in four games in 1993, shutting them out in games 2 and 3 before winning game 4 in overtime, 4-3. 

A lot has changed for the organization since then, most notably three Stanley Cup championships. The past 10 years have been some of the most outstanding in the franchise's 90 years of play. Which is why it's so strange to see the accomplished Blackhawks faltering early in the postseason. 

Where are Kane and Toews?

The easiest thing to do is point to the underperforming Chicago stars. Patrick Kane has just one goal in this series, and it was on the power play. It's his only point. "Captain Clutch" Jonathan Toews has just an assist and is a minus-3 through three games against the Predators. 

What gives? Is it fatigue? Or have the Predators finally put together and executed the right formula to shut down this Blackhawks machine?

It seems the Predators deserve all the credit. 

Pekka Rinne appears impenetrable

Posting back-to-back shutouts to start the playoffs, goalie Pekka Rinne reminded everyone why he is a three-time Vezina finalist. And with a blue line that's the envy of the league, Rinne can stand tall knowing his teammates won't be making it easy on their opponents in front of his net.

Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber are proof that building from the blueline can mean playoff success. This is nothing new for Nashville, but what's different this season, other than the Shea Weber swap for Subban, is a budding group of strong two-way forwards, some of whom seem to be blooming much quicker than expected.

Nashville finds success with upstart offense

Who knew 24-year-old Viktor Arvidsson would score 31 goals and 30 assists this season? He's kept rolling in the playoffs with a goal and assist in the first three games. 

And suddenly centers Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons have given the Predators the depth down the middle they have needed for years. By the way: Who is Kevin Fiala? This 20-year-old winger already has two goals in the playoffs. 

Sure, the Blackhawks know what Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Mike Fisher and even veteran P.A. Parenteau bring to the table, but it's these young, fearless forwards who have proven to be the difference for Nashville's forecheck. 

This formula of a stubborn veteran goalie, robust defensive corps and speedy young offense has the mighty Blackhawks with their backs against the wall, facing a possible sweep before April is over. 

Finally, this appears to be their year

After years of falling to their arch rival, Nashville could be getting redemption. This is the third time since 2010 the teams have met in the playoffs, each time in the first round. Chicago won the series 4-2 in 2010 and again in 2015 before going on to win the Stanley Cup both years

Of course, if any team could make a run at forcing a Game 7 it would be this experienced Chicago group. 

Game 4 is 8 p.m. Thursday in Nashville. 

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